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Saturday, June 16, 2012

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Twice as nice: Spain's Fernando Torres scores one of his two goal against Ireland in Euro 2012 Group C action on Thursday. Spain won 4-0. AFP-JIJI

Torres nets pair as Spain routs Ireland; Croatia holds Italy


GDANSK, Poland — Spain's dazzling ball control, dizzying passing game and deluge of shots were way too much for Ireland.

Fernando Torres scored a goal in each half, and David Silva and substitute Cesc Fabregas added the others as Spain beat Ireland 4-0 and eliminated the Irish from the European Championship with its most lopsided loss in 41 years.

Spain, which leads Group C along with Croatia with four points, dominated the tempo and scoring opportunities through its quick combinations and precise passing. The defending champions completed an incredible 779 passes and took 26 shots — 20 of them on goal — in a performance that put it on course for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Torres, who scored in the Euro 2008 final, put Spain ahead early after dispossessing Richard Dunne inside the area and scurrying past Stephen Ward before sending an angled shot over goalkeeper Shay Given in the fourth minute.

Torres started over Fabregas as the world champions reverted to fielding a traditional striker after the attack was led by six midfielders against Italy. The Chelsea striker showed that a late season turnaround was no fluke as he became Spain's third all-time leading scorer with 30 goals in 95 appearances.

"We wanted to win, to make a better impression than we did against Italy," said Torres, whose team completed three times as many passes as the Irish. "From the first minute we showed the character to win."

Torres' first goal marked the start of Spain's assault on the Irish, who had started well with Simon Cox forcing Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas into a tricky save in the second minute.

"Unfortunately the goal for the second time after three minutes throws your tactical plan out the window," said Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni, whose team also conceded early in a 3-1 loss to Croatia.

But Spain's combination passing got better, leaving Ireland in a constant chase. Spain midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso exploited every crack through the middle with pinpoint passes that were either spoiled by poor finishing, blocked shots or saves.

"For the vast majority of time, we were chasing shadows," Ireland midfielder Keith Andrews said.

Italy squanders lead


POZNAN POLAND — After all the talk about an attacking approach to soccer, Italy fell back to its old defensive tactics Thursday — and the price was a costly 1-1 draw with Croatia.

The Italians let a first-half lead slip away and now may need help to advance to the European Championship quarterfinals.

Andrea Pirlo gave the Italians the lead with a curving free kick in the 39th minute, but Mario Mandzukic was left unmarked to equalize for Croatia in the 72nd.

At the start of the second half, Italy rarely threatened, instead choosing to absorb Croatia's attacks. The tactic backfired when Ivan Strinic launched a long pass from the left flank to Mandzukic, who had time to control at the edge of the box and shoot in off the post.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli was left wondering if there was a physical problem with his squad.

"After an hour our physical level drops," Prandelli said. "We've got to figure out how to manage our energy in the next match. We're lacking freshness in that phase of the match."

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